The evolution of the complex societies displayed by social insects depended partly on high relatedness among interacting group members. Therefore, behaviors that depress group relatedness, such as multiple mating by reproductive females (polyandry), are unexpected in social insects. Nevertheless, the queens of several social insect species mate multiply, suggesting that polyandry provides some benefits that counteract the costs. However, few studies have obtained evidence for links between rates of polyandry and fitness in naturally occurring social insect populations. We investigated if polyandry was beneficial in the social wasp Vespula maculifrons. We used genetic markers to estimate queen mate number in V. maculifrons colonies and assessed colony fitness by counting the number of cells that colonies produced. Our results indicated that queen mate number was directly, strongly, and significantly correlated with the number of queen cells produced by colonies. Because V. maculifrons queens are necessarily reared in queen cells, our results demonstrate that high levels of polyandry are associated with colonies capable of producing many new queens. These data are consistent with the explanation that polyandry is adaptive in V. maculifrons because it provides a fitness advantage to queens. Our research may provide a rare example of an association between polyandry and fitness in a natural social insect population and help explain why queens in this taxon mate multiply.
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Vol. 61 • No. 9